Looking Back – 2013, My Year in Books
It’s the last day of 2013, but before I can ring in the new year, I can’t resist one more look at the old. One of the ways I do that is to go through the journal I keep of the books I read. I’m not good about keeping records of most things, but I am faithful with my Books Journal. Looking through it takes me back to the places I’ve visited via the magic carpet propelled by reading. Along the way, I spend time with people who’ve stepped off the pages and become my friends. I recall bits of crisply-written dialogue.
The first book I read in 2013 was Life Sentences by Laura Lippman. It was a good beginning. As is usually the case with Lippman, the complexity of the characters drove the story and made the journey worthwhile.
The last book I read completely in 2013 was Seneca Falls Inheritance by Miriam Grace Monfredo. The book was fiction, not surprisingly a mystery. When our sons were growing up, we spent a lot of time camping and boating in the Finger Lakes region of New York, so I’ve been to Seneca Falls but have never visited any of the historical sites connected to the women’s movement. I intend to remedy that in the year ahead. I enjoyed the book; it was an interesting period mystery and a history lesson. I intend to look for more books by Monfredo.
Between those first and last books were about fifty more, some better than others, but not one I feel was a waste of time. Some were light, with stories that lift the heart: La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith (I never let a year go by without a book or two by him); Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach. (It was good, but I liked the movie better – can’t remember the last time that happened); Mischief in Italy by Beate Boeker (frothy fun), The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas (a story about quilting and friendship set in the depression years), Keeping Up With Mr. Jones by Sofie Couch (proof that you’re never too old to fall in love). Others were darker: The Devil Star by Jo Nesbo (nobody does dark like the Scandinavians), Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (the suspense, twists and turns in this one blew my mind), Finding Claire Fletcher by Lisa Regan (story of a girl kidnapped and held for years, told with intensity and compelling detail). I won’t go on. Since I write mysteries, I read a lot of them and many fall into the dark category.
Of course, I had to read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Goldbraith (who we all know is really J. K. Rowling). It didn’t disappoint. Rowling knows how to tell a story, but that’s hardly news.
The two books with the most beautiful titles were The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hasseini. Surprisingly (or maybe not), the title is the reason I found myself re-reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I wept (not an exaggeration) over this book years ago, but hadn’t thought of it for a long time until one of the book groups to which I belong read Angry Housewives Eating BonBons by Lorna Landvick (a book I wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been on our list). The angry housewives are a book group and one of its members wanted to read Lonely Hunter because she thought it was the most beautiful title she’d ever heard. The irony here is that the Angry Housewives/BonBons title sounded so trite that I almost played hooky that month rather than waste my time on a silly book. That would have been a shame because I would have missed a good book and a great discussion. It’s true. You can’t judge a book by its cover – or its title. Thank goodness for book groups; they’ve introduced me to authors I might not have discovered otherwise.
Speaking of book groups, another wonderful read is The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. This one’s a heartbreaker; it’s the story of a mother who’s dying of cancer and her son who form their own two-person book club. Written by the son, it is a beautiful homage to his mother’s well-lived, generous life and to the power of books to communicate and console. I called the book a heartbreaker; it is, but it’s also uplifting – and full a good titles if you’re looking for additions to your TBR list.
I just started re-reading T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. It’s been a long time since I read it the first time, but I remember laughing out loud at some of the early scenes, those when King Arthur was just the humble Wart, being eddicated by an eccentric magician who lived backwards in time. I’m not sure what prompted me to pick up this book and start reading, but I’m glad I did. It hasn’t lost its power to delight. I’ve always been a sucker for anything Camelot-related and what a great bridge between the old and new years.
What’s next? I have no idea. Maybe something by an author I’ve never read before. Maybe another oldie. Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.
Happy New Year to the readers of Birth of a Novel. May 2014 be the year peace on earth becomes more than a lovely dream. On a more personal level, I hope you have a wonderful year ahead – much time with people you love, lots of pleasant surprises and many good books. If any of you have books to recommend, I’d love to hear about them.